The virtual reality of Indian cinema: Spectatorship as enactment of becoming modern

Rashmi Sawhney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cinema and the city are products of modernity but are also rites of passage through which modern individuals become properly constituted, as Walter Benjamin implies, when he suggests that transformations in the perception of time and space are similarly experienced by a person in big-city traffic and the spectator of cinema. This essay builds upon the foundations of early twentieth-century scholarship on Euro-American cinema and modernity to foreground difference in urban and cinematic cultures and their intertextuality, using the example of Indian cinema. The idea of difference as implied here emphasizes the multiple configurations, locations and textures of modernity even within India and its cinema cultures; in order to explicate this, the discussion focuses on Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's (2009) film Delhi 6, especially in the context of Bombay's symbolism as the city par-modernity in Indian cinema. The contours of a specific Indian imaginary as seen particularly in Delhi 6-but also in a number of other recent Delhi-based films-offer an indicative comment on the positioning of Indian film viewers within the process of becoming active spectators and citizens. The argument developed is that the sharp, short, shocks of urban modernity are navigated through narrative tropes in popular Indian films that determine the limits of becoming modern.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-409
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012


  • South Asia
  • cinema
  • modernity
  • postcolonial
  • urban culture
  • visual studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology


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